When this interview was originally planned, it was intended to be the final in a series taking a look at how the twentieth season of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit had gone for Peter Stone and Philip Winchester. After the mid-season update, there was little reason to believe that our season’s end conversation would actually be about the “end” of Peter Stone.
That all abruptly changed with Winchester’s unexpected release from the show in March followed by his subsequent public announcement in April. True to his word as always, Philip didn’t hesitate to follow through with the interview. A few days after returning home to Montana and before the season finale we connected for a chat about what happened, the future of “Peter Stone” and more importantly how he was enjoying some much-needed respite with family and friends and what the future holds.
As with previous interviews, it’s presented in transcript format. If you’ve not read the previous interviews I encourage you to take a look back at them. They will provide some context for this current interview if you find yourself with any questions as you’re reading. They are all available at StrikeBackCrib.com
But before we were able to start chatting, there were some important parenting responsibilities to take care of:
Philip: I’ve got my 4-year-old and she’s got a spot in my office that she plays. But it had a bumblebee in it. She’s really good with bugs, but it was a little too much. And bee wrangling, that’s what I do when I come home, I bee wrangle.
Deb: All the important jobs.
Philip: All the important jobs, that’s right. That’s right. (laughs) So yeah, it’s been good. It’s good to be home and it’s good to be with my family again. It’s good to be back in Montana.
I suppose every job has a little bit of recovery involved. It could be just the way that I dive into a project but there’s always a cost somewhere along the line. I’m not speaking in hyperbole or being too dramatic about it, but there’s always a cost. Like we’ve talked about before, it’s usually relational. But when I was coming home this time, it felt like I was recovering from stuff that, just to be honest with you, I’m never going to find the answer to. So you have to just find a place in yourself to be okay with that. That really is the business, and that’s unfortunate. But hey, it takes a little time, but once you’re through it, it’s fine.
And I use the word recovering lightly. Anytime you’re bouncing back from something that you weren’t expecting, I think there are layers to it that you don’t quite understand. You get through one, and you’re like, “Oh, I think I’m better now,” but then you realize, “I’m still mad at something. I need to figure that out.” So it’s been bits and pieces like that but all done with the beautiful backdrop of the Bridger Mountain range, and my beautiful girl, and my family. So it’s all good.
Deb: Speaking personally, as a viewer the whole vibe on that show never was right for me.
Yeah? That’s interesting. And maybe in hindsight, I felt similarly. Maybe that was my own fault. I think, again in hindsight, I never really became a part of the family because I would fly in, I would shoot my scenes, and if I could get on a plane and come home again, I would. So I never stayed out in New York if I didn’t need to, and I never really dove into the elite-squad vibe. I just kind of came in and did my work; but, that was Peter Stone too. He didn’t really mingle with those guys.
It certainly didn’t reflect my personal feelings towards the crew or the cast. It just was the way that I was written. I was usually in the courtroom, or I had a few scenes in the SVU squad room and things like that. It was just the way it worked out. Plus, I had a pregnant wife and a three-and-a-half-year-old at home.
That’s just more important. That’s my opinion. It’s more important. I’ve fought for that ever since I learned that it was more important which was when Charlie came around The Player time and I thought, “Wow, how am I going to do this?” And you just learn; you just figure it out. And fortunately, or unfortunately however you look at it, you have to to say “no” to things and then other things you can say “yes” to.
So this seemed to be right, certainly on account of the fact that it came from Dick Wolf, and Michael Chernuchin, and Alex Chapple, all people that I respect and have clearly worked with before, and worked well with before. But sometimes you can have all the right ingredients, and it just doesn’t gel. And I think that possibly, hindsight being 20/20, possibly that happened. That’s just the way it goes. I’m still proud of a lot of the work that we managed to do on the show and unfortunately, it’s just not ever going to go further than that.
I’m a firm believer in what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I really am. This certainly didn’t come close to killing me. It just was a blow from left field that I didn’t see coming. And so you take a little bit of time to loosen your jaw up and step back in. But, it’s always going to be better in the long run. You don’t want to be a part of something where there are haters, you don’t want to be a part of something where there’s just a bunch of background whispering.
We discussed this in our last interview so I don’t want to go into detail on it but there is a, I don’t even think “core” is the right word. There is a gaggle of sycophants out there who have a direct impact on the show. That is really interesting to me. And it’s dangerous. It’s the mentality of, “You need to do what I say, no matter what, or I’m just going to get louder and meaner.” It was sort of interesting for me to sit back and watch how Peter Stone was being treated as a fake character. (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah I know, it’s crazy!
I’d never been a part of that. I certainly didn’t feel bullied; I felt like, “Wow, people have a lot of spare time.” You know what I’m saying? (laughs) People get this riled up about fake characters on a fake television show. And look, like I said before, there are great stories to be told out there that hopefully can jar people into realizing things or into recovery.
One of the things that I came away from the show thinking is that it’s one thing to be a victim. It’s a whole other thing to become a survivor, and then to become a teacher and a warrior. And there are different steps…
There are more steps involved that we’re not talking about. And I think that a lot of people are getting stuck on the first couple. And that’s not their fault, necessarily, that’s not a blame. It just is. It would be great if we brought attention to the fact that if those horrible, life-changing things have happened to you, you could then have an opportunity to be a teacher and a warrior, and to lay some groundwork which can change people’s lives. And I hope that next year when Warren gets a hold of it, and Warren and Mariska and their love for each other kind of comes across on screen, hopefully they go into that territory. And we’ll see, we’ll see.
Well, I thought, that your video that you did when you said basically “Sometimes you get blindsided but you are NOT a victim.” I was thinking “Oh, please, everyone in the world, listen to that, please!” [Yes, horrible things can happen to you and everyone needs to grieve and heal] but at some point, you then take responsibility and say, “It’s my choice, whether I am still a victim,” you know?
Yeah. Yes, that’s right.
As somebody who works with victims and survivors every day, there are sadly some who cling to a “victim mentality” and don’t want to move beyond that. They actively choose to stay there, to reject moving into being a survivor. It’s not that they can’t or they need more time or help, it’s that they won’t. And I think that’s a part of that group of really negative “fans” out there connected to the show.
Right. And you definitely can speak more into that from a place of professionalism and knowledge. I’m an actor on this show. We were dealing with stuff close up because we were researching it before we did it. We were talking to writers before we did it. But I feel like it’s thin ice for me to discuss that because I am not a victim of the specific type of crime that we were discussing on Law and Order.
I have known people very close to me who are, and I have seen the power of them forgiving. And I’ve seen the power of them then becoming teachers and warriors. So to stay stuck, or to stay angry, and destructive at yourself and at those who disagree with you, is completely self-destructive. It’s the antithesis of what you should be doing.
Yes, it definitely is. I’ve been in this longer (Sexual Assault Advocate work) than the show’s been on (laughs) and I can tell you it definitely is.
Well there you go, I’ll take your word for it, yeah. (laughs)
Look, there’s always going be the element of drama as well, and there’s going be a disconnect. For instance, on Strike Back, this is perhaps not the clearest of examples but, there was always “two guys were fighting, the bad guy gets the good guys gun.” Well look, you know, these are elite soldiers, these are elite warriors and “weapon retention” is like, number one on the list next to “don’t die.” (laughs) And so it was always like, “How can we not do that?” But there had to be a suspension of disbelief.
(The ultimate suspension of disbelief – Stonebridge losing his weapon.)
The same thing applies to drama on television. There are elements of, “Hang on, if we really pump the brakes and look at this, that doesn’t make any sense at all.” But you’re being asked as a consumer of a fake medium to go, “Hey, okay. Maybe the dragon doesn’t need to refuel; maybe it can just burn the city down.” You know, you’re being asked to just put some stuff on hold for a while.
And what happened on SVU that I saw an awful lot of the time, particularly recently, was people just vitriolic about missed identities, missed facts, missed storylines. And I get it, that stuff bugs me too but I’m not going to waste the time to write the people involved. I’m just not. I’ve got more to do in my life, you know? (laughs)
So yeah, it’s a medium in which to relax and to enjoy; or, maybe not relax, but maybe to be challenged. But according to that particular group, they had to be challenged in the right way or they were upset.
Exactly, do it our way or no way. There’s also that element of treating Benson as almost “Saint Benson” who can do no wrong. For many people that’s when the show started to lose credibility, that over focus on Benson at the expense of everything else.
I think that’s interesting to hear that from a viewer’s point of view. I didn’t know that. I can imagine that that really would affect how people viewed the show. I know for me that probably the single biggest nail in the coffin of Peter Stone was that he was constantly going against Benson in a way that was, “Listen, I get it. I get it, you feel terrible, you feel powerless. You feel these things, but I need facts.” And that was probably one of several big nails in the coffin of Peter Stone.
Well that and they kept getting more and more aggressive about it without any explanation to the audience. You know, that Peter was right when he said, “I’m sorry, that’s not rape.” Peter was right to say, “Keep your bleeding heart out of my courtroom.” But it was just so coldly put out there with no explanation of the law to support it. It was intentionally put in there to make people angry.
Yeah, that’s right. It was and it did. (laughs)
Knowing it would get people riled up. If you’re going make a divisive statement like that on a show like SVU, at least give the character some support, use the opportunity to educate the audience on why and use it for more than just making people angry.
That’s right. But here we are on the back of it and whatever comes along next, I did learn things on SVU that were a continuation of my learning on Chicago Justice. Albeit Chicago Justice was so brutal, that a lot of it was just survival. (laughs) But I had more time to myself and I had more time to think about the stuff I was saying on Law and Order and why I would be saying it. So I would discuss that stuff with the writers, etc., etc.
But the stillness that Peter Stone had, that involved him thinking and that involved him really working through things was something I enjoyed a lot. Because with action, oftentimes you run the risk of like, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. Faster, faster, faster.” So you miss the opportunity to stop and think about something. I enjoyed that. I enjoyed learning how to be still and to trust the words more. That was something that I enjoyed about theatre. I haven’t done theatre for so long, I feel a little hokey saying that, but I enjoy the words because it’s all about the words.
When you’re standing on that stage and you can just make out people’s facial expressions depending on where you’re sitting, it’s the words. And you let those words wash over you. And then you’re maybe a couple of beats behind the actual play, and they land and they sink in, you go, “Oh, my gosh. I never thought about life that way.” Or, “I never thought about love that way or hate that way, or the things that we’re discussing in this play.”
And so for me, Peter Stone had a stillness that I enjoyed, and that had to be learned. I’m grateful to Dick Wolf for that. I’m grateful to Michael Chernuchin for writing him in such a way that he was a thinker and he didn’t really care about your feelings. (laughs) I like that. He was unapologetic about the law. He was unapologetic about things that mattered to him, and the law mattered to him.
In particular, which is so interesting to me, one of my backstories for myself going into this was that Peter Stone is a huge proponent for women’s rights. Not having a great relationship with his mother, dealing with what he dealt with with his father, one of the things that was always rattling through my brain was if there was a victim, particularly a woman who’d been beaten, or hurt by another man, that to him was the lowest of low.
(The Stone we all first met, the Stone who pushed the limits to get Justice for a woman driven to suicide by her abusive ex-husband, and didn’t stop there. Chicago Justice episode Lily’s Law.)
And I took that into SVU but, I don’t know, it wasn’t enough, because again it was based in facts for him. There’s nothing lower than someone who would do that to a woman. There was nothing lower to him. But everything had to be noisy it felt like. Everything had to be noisier than just the truth.
I totally agree. It also felt to me, my opinion, that they sort of dumbed Peter down in the transition from Chicago Justice to SVU. And maybe he was just trying to get to know Benson with “I need to learn from you” or “I’m used to more facts,” acting as though he was out of his depth? But I’m thinking “Come on, this man is brilliant and the law is the law.
The law is the law.
Right. He can apply that courtroom knowledge, how to prosecute, how to investigate, and apply the facts, and apply the law to any case.
Murder or rape… it’s still the law, and you still “play the game” the same way.
That’s right. He can do this. He has done it in the past. We’ve seen him do it in the past. But to be completely honest with you, it wasn’t my show. And that’s the way it works.
True. Meanwhile Stone fans were all rewriting it in our minds. You know, this is how this really would go. (laughs)
(laughs) I think the one episode that we got closest to that was the episode where they wanted to prosecute him for raping the woman in the past. (Mea Culpa, episode 20.09) And he just stood and said, “No, I’m not putting up with that.” That was one of the more powerful episodes to shoot, because we went right back to square one with all the writers, and with Mariska, and myself. We said, “Let’s get real with this. How would this go down? Let’s get real.” So that was a really liberating experience.
It was one of the best experiences that I had on the show because it felt like a team. It felt like a team of people throwing out ideas and being challenged by each other in the process. Not being offended, not being upset, but being challenged and going, “Look, I can see why you would say that. I disagree with you but I can see why you would say that.” Or, “I agree with you, and you changed my mind.” There’s that side too. So that episode, and the process of getting that episode on its feet, was really great and I wish we would have had more of that.
Was that really far out of the norm as far as putting an episode together?
Only in the sense that I was never that involved. I was a bit character for a lot of the episodes. That’s nobody’s fault, it was just the way the show is. There’s, let’s see: one, two, three, four, five of us, right? And everyone had to have a bit in an episode or hope they would get a bit. You know, I felt bad for some of the other characters sometimes. I was like, can we focus on these guys a little bit more? Because they’re great people, they’re great actors. Kelly, Peter, and Ice are so professional; they’re so good at what they do. And they’re really not getting a chance a lot of times, you know?
So we’ll see. I’d like to see what happens when Warren steps back in and maybe he can open them up again.
That would be what would make me go back to the show. Start opening up those characters, because that’s what many people want. There is a loud voice on social media that’s saying “Let these other characters have something to do.”
It’s an ensemble, and you need to serve the ensemble, you need to serve the show. But hey, it’s going into its 21st season. So I guess who am I to say? You know, it might right.
Well, I’m saying it and there are a lot of people who agree with us, so we’ll see. (laughs) Because that core of really negative people is not the majority.
And you know what’s interesting, is I felt that. I certainly felt that. I was surprised how affected I was the few times that I allowed myself to read it and then respond. It takes a lot for me to respond. Not a lot in like getting pissed off about it but, “No, I need you to know that that’s not right” or, “I disagree with you on a fundamental level.”
Again, it’s opinions and I say it more as a, “I disagree with you, and I’m okay that we disagree with each other.” Not, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” Just, “No, we’re not going to see eye to eye on that.” And that’s being an adult. That’s being grown up.
Unfortunately, there are a large number of people online for whom that is not okay. It is not okay to disagree with them. They’re going to beat you until you surrender. They just don’t let it go, you know? Whereas, the interaction that you had most recently with the man who was upset about this last episode (Assumptions, episode 20.23), that interaction played out in an adult way.
I thought he was brilliant.
Exactly, he took a look what he was saying and really looked at what you said and it was resolved in the way that most things on social media are resolved.
There’s a lot of tearing your shirt and screaming into the abyss about Twitter. And we all know that. Twitter is a functional black hole, or maybe it’s a nonfunctional black hole (laughs), but it is so powerfully negative. And yet, there are great things about it: the way that it can unite the world when there’s conflict, or people need help, or when people are in trouble, or just by being in contact with people. I’ve worked with people all over the world in this varied career that I’ve had, and I can reach out at the touch of a button and say hello to all of them. It’s incredible.
But in the same sense, someone can try to tear down…can literally throw a dirty bomb in your court, and call you something absolutely staining and horrific, and hope that it sticks. And I think unfortunately, you kind of have to be savvy in how you deal with that. Because sometimes… I think for me a lot of the time, it’s “Look, you guys can scream into the dark as much as you want. I’m not going to give you any time.”
But this young lad, I really liked what he said. Genuinely my second thought was, “I’d like to have a cup of coffee with you because I can learn something from you.” And that’s where I think social media is powerful.
Yes, I absolutely agree. I really wanted to see what he had to say next.
Yeah, I know, right?
He had good things to say. And he was able to back away from his emotions, really think about what you were saying and about what he was saying. He found where the common ground was, and where you could work with each other.
And meanwhile the nutcases were taking credit for that. (laughs)
It was unbelievable! Here was this really eloquent, knowledgeable man giving me an education. And around him, there were the crazy people screaming into the wind. And it was just unbelievable. I thought “Just listen to yourself.”
Yeah. But they don’t want to listen to themselves. They’ll never listen to themselves.
Well, no, because they’d realize how bonkers they sound! It’s very scary when you look in the mirror, you know?
But that’s a really good example of social media being powerful and being used as a tool. And I did like that, I liked that a lot.
And it raises questions in me ethically about being a performer. One of the things I wanted to say back because I’d love to talk to him and be like, “Okay, what do you think about, for instance, the last character I played was a soldier who was fighting essentially ISIS characters for four years. How do you feel about that?” And I really wanted to discuss that with him, “Where’s the line then?”
It’s like free speech. Either we have free speech or we don’t. There’s no middle ground. You have to believe in the right for people to say horrible, horrible things about you…which is free speech… or you don’t believe in free speech. Because we’re in a time where, I think for good reasons we are seeing the power of language. We’re seeing the power of communication through social media and being able to hit millions of people with the push of a button. That carries weight. It’s not the same as mailing a letter. It’s not the same as making a face on the playground or slipping a note on someone’s desk. There are real-life ramifications. So how do we deal with that, but also have freedom of speech?
I could go off on a whole other tangent about corporations, particularly tech corporations making social decisions, making political decisions that are affecting our country. That’s not free speech. They have a direct impact on what people can and can’t say. Whether it’s companies lowering the tone on conservatives or whether it’s companies lowering the tone on liberals, both are wrong. You either can say what you want to say or you can’t.
Yes. I agree.
And it’s interesting as a character, to put that twist on it, as a person on TV. And I loved his argument. When someone said, “What about Hitler, if someone portrayed Hitler?” He said, “This is different because Peter Stone is portrayed as the “right guy.” He’s a “good guy.” I thought that was a really powerful argument. I thought, “Yeah. Good on ya, man. That’s a really good argument.” That’s a really good twist of the truth and him saying, “It does matter, you know, it really does. Get your facts right.”
I think that’s where there is a disconnect today because there’s free speech and then there’s the consequences of free speech. But people want be able to say anything that they want, and walk away from it, to have no responsibility.
Well and they do often, right? But that’s not real life. You leave a wake of destruction and pain.
We’re just at that point with so much in this country, in this world, but particularly here I think, that it’s a critical time to get back to having some responsibility for ourselves.
Yeah. And that’s where it starts, right? It starts with ourselves, looking ourselves in the mirror and going, “You know, what? Maybe that’s not the best way of dealing with this.”
Yes. Well, wow! That was deep. (laughs)
There you go. Now on to much lighter things? I mean, what else is there to talk about? It’s just the country. (laughs)
Well, I wasn’t sure how much you would want to talk about Peter Stone or your experience at SVU. I just wasn’t sure if you were at a point where you wanted to say anything publicly about it?
Yeah. Of course, I’m willing to discuss it. I don’t feel like…I don’t feel a lot toward it, to be honest with you. The shot in the dark came out March 26th or 27th. It was a couple days after my birthday.
But for me, and Peter Stone, I felt like I dealt with it in that first few weeks. And going back to the show, ironically it was a lot more liberating than I thought because I had two episodes left, maybe two half-episodes left, to start to say goodbye to people. So just day-by-day, I would say something to the camera guys, or to my stand-in, or to the teamsters, and the crafty. And just little by little was able to get through everybody.
Whereas the last day on set not knowing if you’re coming back, that’s brutal. Or you get the news in May, and you haven’t said your goodbyes to everybody. So for me, I had this great long goodbye. It was kind of lovely. And it made it final for me, and it made it definite. I said yeah, “This guy’s done. Peter Stone’s done.”
And I realized…not as a generalization, but for me as an actor, there’s always this little hang up in the back of me. It’s like “maybe this guy can come back this way? Maybe we could do something like that? Maybe there will be a spin off here or something like that.” I think Peter Stone’s done, I really do. I don’t hope he’s done, but I do think he’s done.
And those two weeks of saying goodbye to the crew on SVU and of feeling some of the stuff that you discussed earlier about Peter Stone slip away, I thought “Yeah, I think we had our time with him.” And that made it a lot more final, and a lot easier for me now that I’m back in Montana. I’m able to be with my family again, doing other auditions because I’m not hopeful in a way that it’s tying me down.
And Peter Stone, I want to clarify, he didn’t tie me down. It was one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever had to take on because I was the furthest thing from a lawyer in every which way. (laughs) I mean, not just in physicality, but in my temperament, in the way that I walk through things. And then little by little I learned and stacked things together and put things together and built this character. Thanks to Michael Chernuchin, and thanks to Dick Wolf and their patience. And thanks to the great directors that came through, Fred Burner, Alex Chapple, these people who came through the episodes and really took me under their wing. We made something of him. But I think he might be done. And that’s okay.
Yeah, it is. It really is. People on social media are throwing around ideas just like you said, “maybe Stone could do this, maybe put him on there.” But, no, let the man move on.
Yes. And for me as an actor as well, I…need is the wrong word but I would like that. I want that. I want to do something different. I don’t know what the “different” is, and that’s what’s always fun about this time right now, it’s very electric. And it’s very real because you know you’re sitting on a highway of potential, and you don’t know what’s going to fit.
So there are things out there right now that you’re actively pursuing or being considered for?
Yeah, definitely. Defintely. Which is great. It’s great and it’s exciting. Some of them are really big, and others are just like “that would be a kick in the pants, I’m gonna do that,” you know? (laughs) Like “no money, let’s go to South Africa for three months, and shoot some guns, and run around with some of our old friends!” That sounds like fun!
I vote for that! (laughs)
I might just want to do that. You know, I just might do that. We’ll see. (laughs)
Well, I think a lot of people would be very happy if you do that. (laughs) For me it’s never far away that when you’re an actor, you never know when your last job was your last job.
That’s right. That’s right.
To me that’s scary. So it’s really good to hear that there solid possibilities out there.
That little nugget of truth though, that never goes away. I’m certainly not of the mind that that’s out of the realm of possibilities. But, I also feel like I haven’t come this far to a) quit, or b) let disappointment and negativity tear me down. This is a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things. I’m an actor. It’s what I do.
As an actor, I deal with being turned down. That’s basically all I do as an actor. And then every once in a while, I get a job and I just throw myself into it. Actors are constantly being told no, constantly. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just living in a fairy tale. So, this isn’t a terrible blow by any means to my career or to me personally. It just was disappointing because I didn’t have a choice in the matter.
And again, it’s a part of this business. It’s not only a part of this business, it’s a part of life. Life carries with it disappointment. Life is hard, right? We want certain things in our lives because they combat the hardness. We want our houses to be warm in the winter and cool in the summertime; we want food on the table and a roof over our head; and, we want to be safe. We want these things because they combat the world, they combat how tough things are.
I’ve spoken with a lot of friends, and a lot of people who’ve gone through this. Everything from pastors who were fired out of the blue, other actors, lawyers, doctors who’ve been demoted for things they’ve said. And it always comes under that horrible thing of, “I didn’t see it coming because I was told these things prior.”
Exactly. And that’s what hurts the most. It isn’t that I just lost my job it’s that…
Exactly! Take the damn job, take my job. But it’s funny how trust is… you know, clearly, it’s a two-way road. But when trust is extracted by the roots, suddenly, by force? Ugh, oh… (shudders)
Now that I’m getting through it, I can teach better. I can teach younger actors better things. And I’m not going to go into a job any differently. You know, part of being an actor is you have to be vulnerable. It’s like falling in love you have to be willing to be hurt, right?
Probably, actually not probably, this is going to happen to me again. If I keep acting something’s going to happen that’s just not cool. This is going to happen. It’s the nature of creativity. It’s the nature of having a lot of cooks in the kitchen. But on the other side of that, I am really looking forward to having wonderful adventures again and being able to go places in the world with my family that we never would have gone without this business. To be able to tell stories and affect people hopefully positively or make them feel challenged, or make them feel ways that they can’t feel just by mowing the grass, and sitting on the back deck, you know?
That’s our job. Let’s take people somewhere else. And what’s exciting to me about being released from Law and Order, is that I can be choosy again about wanting to find those roles with those words that hopefully have that desired effect on the audience again. I’m looking forward to that.
So am I! Yes, I’m a fan but, and I hope this comes through on the fan page, that it is about the work for me.
Yeah. It really is.
So okay, let’s get that next role. I want to see what he does with it. I want to see something totally different. Yeah, I want to see you running around shooting guns, because that’s what I love the most, but something totally different would be so fun.
A rom-com, or some stage work, or something different because it is about the work. That’s what excites me.
It is about the work. It’s always about the work. Yeah, you’re right. And that was one of the biggest reasons I said yes to Peter Stone. I knew that the things I learned about Peter Stone, and learned about myself as an actor, and the career, and the business, were all going to tie into the stuff I learned on Strike Back, Camelot, Player, Crusoe, the Royal Shakespeare Company…
It’s not one and done. They all go together. There’s always a piece of the puzzle in every single job that goes to building the bigger picture. Every single time that happens. And it’s not necessarily bigger and forward, it’s just a piece that you need, and you didn’t even know you need it most of the time.
And for you it was that stillness? Because I saw that in your work before…
I appreciate that. But I think the confidence to do it is different for me. The willingness to be like, “I don’t need to show you anything. I can just say it.”
And I think that that can only help down the road. Not being afraid of opening up the script and seeing a big chunk of dialogue and a big speech and bits and pieces and going, “okay, when am I going to find time to do this, I got two daughters, I got this, I gotta get on a plane, I gotta get here…?” It just became part of my life. I just figured it out. For me, it’s all about discipline.
It was the discipline that between getting on that plane and getting off that plane, you learn as much material as you possibly can, so that your time at home was actually your time at home. If I had work to do, I wanted it to be done in the air or when I was away from my family. So that when I got off the plane and I got in my truck, and I drove home, I could be a dad and a husband for 8 hours or 12 hours, or whatever it was, you know? And that’s just discipline. And I had to learn that.
And Peter Stone taught me that because he had so much material. On Justice particularly, on SVU not so much. But perhaps I was dealing with other things that I didn’t even know about. Dealing with the travel, and the sort of unspoken stuff that was perhaps eating away at me on the show that I didn’t really know about. Because I wasn’t quite sure of whether it still was the right move. And again, that decision was made for us, so I don’t have to worry about it anymore.
On the page, so many people are interested in where you think you’re going. Letting them know that there are solid possibilities out there is great. There will always be people who are stuck on previous roles like returning to Strike Back or pushing specific roles like Bond. Every once in a while I just have to say “Yes, that would be great but you know, the actor doesn’t make that decision. Right? “
Yeah, that’s right. (laughs) It’s great. I have an amazing neighbor. Her name is Kay and she walks her dog by my house every day. And she said to me the other day…it was so genuine and brilliant. She said, “Well, I’m glad you’re not on Law and Order anymore, it was just too hard to watch. But you know, there is an opening on Lifetime because Lori Loughlin did that silly thing with the colleges…” And I said, “Yes, Kay. That is very true.” She’s so sincere.
(laughs) That’s great! That’s so funny! I do try to move the page beyond the typical “fangirling, pretty pictures” fan page. And I get a lot of feedback from people who stay with the page because of that. That’s their reason for being there, they want to focus on the work. And yeah, pretty pictures will of course always be a part of it, and there will always be some fun fangirling, but within the context of that they really want to talk about the work.
Yeah. That’s really cool. And I’ve really seen that flavor. I’ve seen the change and I really like that. That’s really cool. Because it reminds me of what we’ve all been through too. A lot of the time…I don’t know maybe it’s just being young, but you just plow through things, right?
You plow through these jobs and you say, “What’s next? What are we doing next? Where are we going? Where’s it at? Okay, I’m going to put the money in the bank and save up, and then let’s do that or let’s do this.” And that has a real numbing effect on life because you’re never in the moment. You’re always looking down the road at what’s next. You’re never sitting down, and being still, and looking at what you have and what the world has provided you with.
So to see some of these things come up on the fan page I’m like, “Oh my gosh, we’ve had some great adventures. We have seen some amazing people.” You know what? Actually speaking about this…this is a total horse that rode by I’m going to jump on for a second.
One of the greatest things, if not the greatest thing about Law and Order, were the guest stars. They were phenomenal! And you know these were men and women that I grew up watching when I was younger, who then were guest stars on the show and I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe my luck working with, you know, Stephen Tobolowsky, and having Nazneen (Contractor) come back again from Justice. You know, she was my (originally cast) second chair in Justice, and then she came back in the episode. (Assumptions, episode 20.23)
I know I talked about that on the page. So cool!
I mean, phenomenal, right?! But relationships just keep coming up. Tim Busfield came and directed an episode. Tim Busfield directed Maneater.
…all those years ago to do a comedy, which was so liberating, was so much fun! My wife and I had just gotten married. We went down to Scottsdale Arizona, bought a puppy, did the whole nine yards, you know? So all these relationships start coming back and colliding with each other, and you start to realize “yeah, we’ve been doing this a while.” I know a lot of these people. And it’s a gift. It’s a gift to work with people who care about the work, right? They just care about the work.
Richard Kind in this last episode, he’s just a hoot and he cares about the work. That’s his thing. Just such a joy. It was such a joy to sit in between takes with working actors and just listen to their stories, listen to their highs and lows, listen to their ups and downs. And the time they got fired. Or the time they thought it was the end, and then this thing happened, and this snowballed, and then boom, they were off again. You just never know what’s going to happen. Listening to the wonderful stories from the plethora of talent (laughs) that came to the show was one of, if not the biggest joy of being on Law and Order.
Well, to be honest with you, I really didn’t expect to talk about SVU so much. So, I had this whole other game plan in case you didn’t want to talk about it. (laughs) One thing that has really resonated with people on the fan page is learning more about you as a person versus you as the actor. I linked into our second conversation for something recently and I got a ton of messages back saying things like, “Wow I had no idea, it really makes me rethink some things.”
One woman went into great depth about how it really made her rethink wanting you to go back to Strike Back. It made her realize that you’re real person and that you’ve moved on. She actually wrote it very eloquently but basically said “He’s moved on, I need to move on” (both laughing!) but with a real understanding of why. People took another look at it and I got a lot of “It’s interesting to learn something that isn’t about the acting but that is about the man and how he became this person.”
So assuming that you might not want to talk about SVU, (laughs) I thought, “Okay, if that’s what they want, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about you growing up, and your background, and how you got to be where you are personally, and how your career came from and weaves into that.” But, I know we’ve been on the phone for over an hour already. (laughs)
I’d definitely be willing to do that. Is there another time that you’d like to set that up? Because I would love to do that. The only reason I’m saying this is at 5:00…which I have half an hour, so we can talk about it a bit right now. At 5:00, I’m going to head into town and I’m going to mow my mom and dad’s yard because they’re in the UK right now. And they’re coming back on Thursday night, and I think their yard’s gotten completely out of control. Because my brother just classically said, “Yeah, we’ll take care of it while you’re gone.” And, of course, we waited till the last week. You know, that kind of…
Now you need to bring the tractor over to hay, right? (laughs)
Exactly. The stunned brother thing of like, “Yeah, you’ll be gone for five weeks, we’ll mow a few times.” We’re going to mow it once and it’s going to take four hours to hack through it! (laughs)
I would really love to do that because it just reinforces why I do what I do. And to me, it also reminds me where I’ve come from and how fortunate I am to have had the opportunities that I’ve had.
Just quickly, my parents work week to week, still. My mom came over from London on holiday and the story is, kind of never left. And here I am 38 years later, choosing to call it home as well because I saw how important it was to my mom and my dad. And traveling the world over, I still think there’s nowhere like this valley. It’s so beautiful. When we go places to work, or we go on vacation, it’s never a bummer to come home because it’s so great here.
But my parents are… my grandparents on my mother and my father’s side were both farmers, and ranchers, and hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people. My grandma, God bless her, she’s 92. She just retired from running a bed and breakfast two years ago, she ran until she was 90 years old. And the only reason she couldn’t do it anymore was she couldn’t change the duvet comforters at the top of the house and bring them all the way down the stairs. Otherwise, she’d still do it.
So I come from a family of… like my grandma, when I would be learning lines in my room at the farm, she would say “What are you doing?” And I’d say, “Oh, I’m learning lines.” (Insert thick British accent here) “Oh, get a proper job,” she’d say. (laughs)
And it was always that slight dig of “Oh, come on, go dig a hole or go stack some hay, go stock some wood. Do a proper day’s work boy,” you know? (laughs) And that always has stuck with me. And it’s not been negative, it’s been positive because I find real solace in those things.
I would rather finish a job, and get off a plane, and go stack hay, and have a hot shower, and drink a beer with a buddy of mine than go straight to another job, or go to an interview, or sit in my hotel room. It doesn’t jive with me. I don’t like that. There’s definitely a decompress from every job, which is what I’m in right now. That sort of thinking about it and mulling over it and some days you’re happy, and some days you’re mad, and some days you know, whatever. It’s emotions, it’s your brain, you have no idea what it’s going to say to you.
And my upbringing, certainly the stillness of my father and my mother, was just “wake up, do your job, come home, be with your family. Life doesn’t have to be complicated.” I envy that, and I admire it, and it scares me too because I think if things did all go away, could I do that and genuinely be happy?
Knowing what I know the work can feel like, and when work is collaborative, and slightly dangerous, and exciting, and challenging, and when there’s a crowd of people who are feeding off what you’re doing, all the things, you know all the things that performers like. I see why performers kind of become curmudgeons and hole up and just disappear, because it’s a part of who they are.
And so I fear those things because on one hand, I look at the people I admire the most in my life: family and friends, blue-collar, hard working people all around me here in Montana, and back in London at the farm. My uncle’s a rancher, my two other uncles out there are builders. One of my aunts…no two of my aunts are nurses, my grandma was a nurse, my mother was a nurse. I mean, these are professions where you get in, you get dirty, and you help people out.
And I think, “Have I been really selfish in pursuing this? Have I missed something, have I missed out on something deeper?” And I don’t think that. The answer to that is no.
But then I think well, then what? Then what would I do? You know, maybe would you be…phew, would be a cop or a fireman? I’d want to help people I think in some capacity. And so the people around me that I admire the most, also are the ones I look to for the grounding, and for the foundations of “It’s okay.” Sometimes life is the way it is. Like walking through this, you know? I don’t think my mom said two words to me. She’s like, “Well, better luck next time.” You (laughs) And my dad went, “Huh. Well, their loss.” You know, that was that. (laughs) That can be good and it can be bad, right?
Yeah. But jeez, you want your parents to feel a little badly for you at least. “Hey, I’m kind of hurting here.” (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah! But, there’s something about that that I really respect. And there’s something about that that makes you go, “Hey. You can spend as long as you want in that boat, but the water all dried up, so you better get over here. Let’s go somewhere else.”
That’s all to say that’s kind of what my upbringing was like. It was simple, it was great. I had a BMX, a BB gun, and a cocker spaniel when I was a kid. And we lived in a house…my mom and dad live in the house they bought back in 1989. And before that, we lived in a trailer court next to a rodeo ring. I’m not even kidding! In Belgrade, Montana that the nearest thing was like a little rodeo thing, and then it became a John Deere tractor place, and that was across the road from a place called Bears Truck Stop. And now, it’s all boomtown over there! There’s a Harley Davidson dealership, and you know, boy, it’s America now. And my biggest fear through all of this is changing so much that those things don’t matter anymore. And I mean that sincerely.
I think you’re beyond that. Don’t you?
I do too. But I think that there’s always that brokenness in people. Certainly there’s the brokenness in me – the shiny, big, fast thing, let’s go. Maybe I lost a little heart for SVU because of that. It was a means to an end rather than it being a job that I cared about. That’s a possibility. All the traveling, all the flying between Montana and New York, killed a little bit of the love for it. It just was a means to an end, you know? And I’m okay admitting that; and I’m okay walking away from that and going, “Now I know what to look out for.”
Exactly. Exactly. You know what doesn’t work.
Yeah, what doesn’t work.
And that was the lesson you needed to learn. Now you know what doesn’t work.
That’s right! That’s exactly right. I don’t want to spend all my free time up in the sky. I need my family. I’m a dad for a reason; I got married for a reason. I didn’t get married to just say, “Hey look, I got a ring on my finger and a gal somewhere.” I got married because I love Megan more than anything else. And we’ve had a family together, and they matter to me more than this profession ever will. And it started to feel like I was just surviving them. I was just sort of surviving the industry and giving them dregs. And I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that at all.
So the irony is, the next job, I’m hoping it’s in South Africa, or New Zealand, or halfway across the world because they’ll come with me then because there’s no choice. And we’re better that way, we just are. We’re better together. And that’s all because of both of our upbringings. It’s all about family. It just is. And I think the relationship and, you know the cost stuff that we talked about last time, it’s definitely on family. Especially directly, your direct family feels it the most. And this one, maybe it was too much? The cost was too much. So we recover, and we learn, and we don’t do it again, but we’re better equipped for next time.
Exactly, and you have this time now before the next one comes…
And it’s great!
It must feel great! You’re no longer an eight-hour dad. Charlie must been like, “What are you still doing here?” (laughs)
Yeah! Charlie, oh it was so beautiful Deb. The other day, I walked outside and I was thinking “I gotta learn this audition and I’m gonna shut myself in my office.” And the sun was shining for the first time since…last year (laughs) It was a brutal winter!
(laughs) Well you know that hasn’t happened here yet!
(laughs) Oh my gosh! She looked at me and she said, “Hey, Dad, do you want to go for a bike ride?” And there was all these bells and whistles in me of like “you gotta audition, you gotta provide for your family, you’re the sole provider of your family and you just got home.” And I managed to open my mouth and say, “Yes, I do.” It was so good. It was so good! (laughs)
(laughs) If you were just to walk into the next job, you would have no heart for it. You have to have that recovery.
Yeah, you do. And God is gracious, and this is a part of the grace that he extends us. This time together to realize just who we are together, and why we are together, and what’s going on. And we always, Megan and I, very seriously discuss when opportunities arise, the pluses and the minuses. It’s never just “Yes, let’s go.” It’s always a, “Well, how are we going to do this?” And we look at it as a couple because that’s what comes first. And we think, “Can we do this? Can we make this work?”
Realistically, you also have a kid who’s about to start school fairly soon.
I know! And I’m no longer going to be cool. Next year, that’s it. Dad’s cool factor goes right out the window! (laughter)
(laughs) Well, let me tell you, my dad was a junior-high English teacher. And I always thought “Oh my God, why would you ever teach junior high?” You know, intentionally teach junior high? And he had a really great reason for always sticking to the junior high level. He told me it was because that’s when kids are at an age when they’re old enough to have real conversations with and get to know; but, they’re young enough to still be impressed by you. (laughs)
To still be teachable and impressed, yeah that’s right. That’s great. That’ great, I love that!
So you still have a few more years of cool.
Yeah. Fingers crossed. I’m getting the eye rolls. I’m getting the “Daaaad.” Like the four-syllable dad. “Daaaad.” (laughs)
(laughs) That’s funny, that’s really funny!
Well look, I would love to set up another time to really talk about growing up in Montana and what it was like bouncing between here and London and figuring out that maybe acting did have something. Maybe I could do something with acting in my life. I’d love to go more deep diving into that stuff.
Great. Great! Let’s do that! We’ll set something up. But you need to go mow!
Yeah, it’s such a jungle but that’s okay, we’ll get it.
Pack a lunch.
Yeah, that’s right, and then some beer, that’s right!
Yeah. There you go!
Have a good night, Deb.
You too, bye.
Once again, we end one “For Fans Only” interview with the promise of another. I’m at a loss to come up with the right words to express my profound gratitude to Philip Winchester for his willingness to open himself up to fans in this way. It’s a rare privilege for someone who truly is “just a fan” to have these opportunities.
So, based on the feedback I’ve received since these interviews began, our next chat will focus more on the personal versus the professional. Please reply with your questions and the things that you’re interested in learning I’ll ask as many as possible!
Special thanks to Kelsey Nolen @nolenag03 and Kim Barnsdale @wee3Minis from StrikeBackCrib for all you do to make these interviews and the fan site possible.
Very special thanks to Grainne Nugent of @emeraldisleedit for all of her beautiful original fan edits and her aspirational work ethic, but more importantly her friendship. Her work is the featured image for this interview.
And as always, thanks to Dan MacPherson @DanMacPherson for the spark.